Their Terrorists and Ours

Their Terrorists
and Ours

By Edward S.


On July 12 and 13, 1998, the New York Times had successive front-page articles on the
career of Luis Carriles Posada, a world class terrorist who had been trained by the CIA in
the 1950s in preparation for the Bay of Pigs invasion, and who thereafter devoted his life
to terrorist actions against Cuba. As a U.S.-sponsored terrorist, for many years in direct
U.S. service, and who continued to terrorize a country subject to U.S. economic and other
forms of warfare, Posada remained under effective U.S. protection for over 30 years. This
protection was paralleled by a treatment by terrorism “experts” and the U.S.
media that differed sharply from that accorded terrorists like Carlos the Jackal. The Times
articles of July 12 and 13 represent a partial break from the past, in which a potent
double standard between “their terrorists” and our own had been consistently

In 1988, the Pentagon
listed the African National Congress as one of the “more notorious terrorist
groups” in the world, but not Savimbi’s Unita, nor the Israel-sponsored proxy
army in South Lebanon, nor the U.S.-organized Nicaraguan contras. Libya has long been
declared a sponsor of international terrorism, but never South Africa, which in the 1980s
was supporting not only Unita in Angola and Renamo in Mozambique, but whose assassination
attempts abroad extended to London, Paris, and Sweden (in 1996, the former head of a
covert South African hit squad claimed that Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme had been
murdered in 1986 by South African agents). In its recent report on “Patterns of
Global Terrorism,” issued on April 30, 1998, the State Department lists Cuba as a
sponsor of international terrorism, solely on the grounds that it “harbors”
alleged terrorists. But Saudi Arabia’s giving safe haven to Idi Amin is different,
and the U.S. provision of refuge to Haitian killers General Raoul Cedras and Emmanuel
Constant, Salvadoran military officers Jose Guillermo Garcia and Carlos Vides
Casanova—both recently named by the released soldiers who murdered four U.S.
religious women in 1980 as the ones who gave the orders to kill—and numerous Cuban
refugee terrorists, does not interfere for a moment with the Godfather’s right to
name the world’s terrorists.

Carlos Versus Posada

Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, popularly known as Carlos
the Jackal, carried out many terroristic acts against Israel, other Western states,
including France, and Arabs who cooperated with Israel and the West (one of his most
notable ventures was kidnapping a group of Arab country oil officials from a high level
conference). The Western media have credited him with some 83 killings over his career.
Taken into custody by France in a deal with Sudan where he was in hiding, Carlos was
recently tried and convicted of murder in Paris. For the Western media and experts, Carlos
is the model terrorist and is portrayed without qualification as evil incarnate.

Luis Posada Carriles, on
the other hand, was trained by the CIA as part of the Bay of Pigs invasion project, and
has been a long-standing member of the Cuban refugee terrorist network. This network has
been one of the most active and durable anywhere, because it was given legitimacy by U.S.
sponsorship, has served U.S. aims, and has in consequence been under U.S. protection. The
U.S. official and media treatment of Posada has reflected this protection and role of the

Posada came to public
notice when a Cuban airliner was blown up in October 1976 killing 73 people. Two Cubans
were apprehended, confessed, and implicated Posada and Orlando Bosch as fellow
participants. Posada was caught and tried three times in Venezuela, but was acquitted on
technicalities. Before a further trial could be held, he escaped prison. He next came into
notice when Eugene Hasenfus’s contra supply plane was shot down over Nicaragua in
1986, and evidence surfaced that Posada was an operative in the contra supply network,
working for the Reagan administration at Ilopango airbase in El Salvador.

The mainstream media’s
treatment of this disclosure was extremely muted. I believe that if Carlos had turned up
as an employee of Bulgaria or the Soviet Union in some military-terrorist function, the
media would have expressed outrage, and would have cited this as definitive evidence of a
Soviet terror network. When it was disclosed in 1990 that Carlos had been given refuge in
Hungary, the New York Times gave this front page coverage (“Aide Says Hungary
Gave Refuge in ‘79 to Terrorist Carlos,” June 28, 1990)—and it distorted
the news in the process, by suppressing the fact, available in the European media, that
Carlos’s refuge was conditional on his suspending all terrorist activities, and that
he was expelled in 1982. In the case of Posada, an escaped and wanted terrorist was not
only being protected against prosecution for serious terrorist crimes, he was being used
in U.S terrorist operations against Nicaragua. But as he was our terrorist, the media were
virtually silent, thereby collaborating as “news” organizations in facilitating
the U.S. “unlawful use of force” (World Court) and sponsorship of contra

The U.S. media always
search diligently for links to high officials in the case of enemy misdeeds. With Posada,
there was a very definite link to the top: he was a good friend of Felix Rodriguez, a
fellow right-wing Cuban, who was Vice President George Bush’s liaison to the contra
terrorist campaign against Nicaragua in the 1980s. But in this case, the media showed no
interest whatever in the link of this terrorist to the political leadership. There were
also other differences from the treatment of Carlos. The Times article that
discussed Posada (December 10, 1986)—and the only one ever to focus on him in any
detail until the two part series on July 12 and 13, 1998 (the paper had at least 14
separate articles featuring Carlos)—was on page 21, and was entitled “Accused
Terrorist Helping to Supply Contras.” Even U.S. officials acknowledged that Posada
had been involved in the Cuban airliner bombing and was a real terrorist, but unlike
Carlos, Posada was only an “accused” terrorist in the Times. While
mentioning the accusation that he had participated in a terrorist bombing killing 73, the
paper didn’t mention that two colleagues had quickly incriminated him, and that he
was still wanted for crimes in Venezuela. Also, the article stressed his anti-communism,
long fight against Castro, and devotion to his family, a form of exoneration not extended
to Carlos.

Posada Terrorizes
Cuba and Honduras

Posada has been living in
Honduras and El Salvador since 1986. His exact location has been known to U.S. authorities
(as was acknowledged to the Miami Herald [June 7, 1998]), and he could easily be
extradited or seized by U.S. forces in these client states; this would be easier than
France’s recovery of Carlos from the Sudan. But Posada is a terrorist who has worked
for us directly and indirectly, and thus has remained free to continue his activities. The
contrast between our treatment of this world class terrorist and the French treatment of
Carlos is not discussed in the mainstream media.

In 1994 and 1995 Posada
joined with a group of right-wing army officers in Honduras to destabilize the government
of Carlos Roberto Reina, who had angered the officers by cutting the military budget and
curbing their kickbacks on arms purchases, and who the Cuban right wing felt was too soft
on Castro and might interfere with plans to use Honduras as another secret base for
anti-Cuban operations. This terrorist program involved a dozen or more bombings in late
1994 and early 1995, with at least six Hondurans killed and 26 injured (Miami Herald,
September 28, 1997). Neither the terrorist operation in Honduras nor Posada’s
involvement were reported in the leading U.S. newspapers or TV newscasts.

On November 16, 1997, a
lengthy article in the Miami Herald, by Juan O. Tamayo, traced the 11 bombings of
hotels and restaurants in Cuba during 1997 to a “ring of Salvadoran car thieves and
armed robbers directed and financed by Cuban exiles in El Salvador and Miami…And it was
Luis Posada Carriles…who was the key link between El Salvador and the South Florida
exiles who raised $15,000 for the operation.” The Cuban bombings killed one tourist
and wounded six other people.

The Miami Herald
article on the Cuban bombings was based on “dozens of interviews with security
officials, friends of the bombers, Cuban exiles and others in El Salvador, Miami,
Guatemala and Honduras.” Carried out by a distinguished group of reporters, led by
Tamayo, this story had great credibility. But it was neither reproduced nor were its
findings summarized in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles
, or on the TV network broadcasts. In fact, in the puny stories covering these
terrorist attacks none of these papers ever mentioned Posada.

Nor were the important
revelations of a subsequent investigative report by the Miami Herald picked up in any of
the major media forums. “One of the most ambitious” of Posada’s adventures,
the Herald reports, “appears to have been a plot to assassinate Castro at a
1994 summit of Ibero-American heads of government in the Colombian port city of
Cartegena.” But although Posada and his five accomplices “managed to smuggle
arms into Cartegena,” the report continues, “Columbian security cordons kept
them too far away to take a good shot at Castro…” (“An exile’s relentless
aim: oust Castro,” June 7, 1998). “If there is no publicity, the work is not
useful,” the Herald reporter quotes Posada as having written to a fellow
“conspirator.” “The U.S. newspapers don’t publish anything unless it
is confirmed.” Posada was wrong—stories that fit newspapers’ biases require
minimal confirmation; those that don’t, like Posada’s terrorist activities, will
get minimal publicity despite compelling evidence.

The New York Times
method of keeping the story of Posada’s connection to the Cuban bombings out of the
public eye in 1997 is enlightening. The killing of the tourist was covered in World
News Briefs
, on page A13, and got 3.5 inches of space (September 5, 1997). In the case
of the other bombings, the Times quoted generalities from Cuban reports and
accusations, always on the back pages (e.g., September 6, 1997). After a Salvadoran was
captured, confessed, and linked the bombings to the Cuban-American National Foundation
(CANF), the Times said that “Havana tries to link a suspect to an exile group
in Miami” (September 12, 1997). The confession didn’t make the link real for the
Times, and it was offset by denials from the CANF and statements by the State
Department that Cuba hasn’t given them solid evidence. But Tamayo and his colleagues
did more, and the Times trick is to cite only Cuban officials—easily dismissed
as biased—and to avoid a serious source that is more credible. (This method, of using
the less credible witness to make the case you oppose, is widely used by the Times
and other media; e.g., in its letters column the Times often publishes a weak
offering that provides nominal balance while rejecting others that contain unwanted
critical substance.) It is also notable that the Times failed to do any
investigative research of its own on the anti-Cuban terrorism. It didn’t want to
know, or to have the public know, of the escapades of our terrorist.

Posada in the Times

However, on July 12 and 13, 1998, the Times ran two lengthy front-page articles
on Posada, by Ann Louise Bardach and Larry Rohter, based on interviews with him at his
secret Caribbean hideout, as well as on borrowings (unacknowledged) from the Miami
. What caused the Times to alter its news judgment and give Posada such
attention? One reason was the recent softening in Administration policy toward Cuba,
manifested in the reopening of direct air travel between Cuba and the U.S., the tightening
of restraints on exile forays into Cuban waters, and a crackdown on the smuggling of
refugees from Cuba. The Times has long “followed the flag” in reporting
on foreign policy, so that when a bipartisan hard-line policy is in place the paper
protects “our terrorists” and downplays the U.S. terror campaign in which a
Posada (or D’Aubuisson, or Savimbi) plays his part. While the Times performed
this protective service in relation to Posada through 1997, it had not been entirely happy
with U.S. policy toward Cuba, denouncing Helms-Burton and calling for a more humane mode
of opposition to the Castro regime (e.g., “Turning a Page in Cuba,” ed.,
November 25, 1997). The softening of policy that preceded the July articles was therefore
surely welcomed and this editorial position undoubtedly contributed to making Posada, at
long last, newsworthy.

The moderation of policy
has been a reflection of changing political forces bearing on Cuban policy, including the
effect of the Pope’s visit to Cuba, the growing interest of U.S. business in Cuban
markets, and the desire to move away from the damaging confrontation with allies over
Helms-Burton and the U.S. policy of destructive engagement.

Another important factor
was the November 1997 death of Jorge Mas Canosa, the influential head of the CANF, and the
consequent disarray and weakening of his hardline faction (displayed in part by the
willingness of Posada to implicate CANF in his activities, and thereby damage its legal
and moral status in the U.S.). The July articles featured Posada’s close relationship
with Mas Canosa and the long-time and regular funding Posada received from him and CANF.
Posada made it clear that the money was provided with the understanding that it was
underwriting his general terrorist activities, including the 1997 bombing campaign in
Cuba. In short, he was a terrorist arm of the tax exempt CANF, which had been organized at
the recommendation of the Reagan administration.

The articles also focus on
Posada’s long relationship with the CIA as an agent and informant, and it quotes
Posada time and again explaining how his friendly relations with CIA and FBI personnel and
long service as a U.S. operative protected him and allowed him to continue his life and
“work.” The Times describes in detail how a Cuban-America businessman in
Guatemala, who discovered Posada’s (and his partners’) assemblage of bombs and a
planned assassination attempt against Castro, notified the FBI, which apparently made no
investigation and took no action on the case. Posada told the interviewer that the FBI had
never questioned him in connection with this incident. It is made clear throughout the
series that the rule of law has long been inoperative in dealing with CANF, Posada, and
the approved terrorism they represent.

While much of this
information is not new or surprising, it is useful to have it confirmed from the
terrorist’s mouth and given a Times news imprimatur. It should be noted,
however, that significant biases are still evident in these articles. For example, Posada
is not referred to as a terrorist; in fact, the authors note that Cuba calls Posada a
terrorist, but they themselves repeatedly describe him as a “Cuba foe” and as a
man who has “devoted his life to trying to bring down Castro,” or even as a
“fugitive.” They state that when Hasenfus’s plane was shot down in
Nicaragua in 1986, the world soon learned that “Ramon Medina was actually Luis Posada
Carriles, the international fugitive.” The Times never called Carlos a mere
“fugitive,” nor did it ever identify Carlos by his self-designated objectives
(anti-Israel, anti-imperialist); unlike Posada, his acts and methods made him an
unqualified terrorist.

The series is kind to
Posada in other ways. The authors state that Posada “opposed the dictatorship of
Fulgencio Batista,” without offering any evidence. Almost as much space is given to
the injuries Posada suffered in a 1990 assassination attempt as to his terrorist acts and
the damage inflicted on his victims. As in the past, the Times does not mention the
fact that the two terrorists apprehended following the 1976 Cuban airliner bombing quickly
named Posada as an accomplice. This bloody killer is humanized and asked no difficult or
harsh questions. His history and linkages are spelled out by him on his own terms, with
his own rationales unchallenged.

The articles also fail to
make connections and draw conclusions. His close relationship with Felix Rodriguez, with
whom he worked at the Ilopango air base in El Salvador in the 1980s, is mentioned without
noting that Rodriguez was Vice President George Bush’s liaison to the contra war,
which ties the employment of this terrorist to the highest echelons of the U.S.
government. More important, the authors nowhere ask whether the close relationship between
the “fugitive” and U.S. government doesn’t make the U.S. a sponsor of
international terrorism and its leaders and mainstream intellectuals and
journalists—who regularly denounce the scourge of terrorism—world class

When Cuba shot down an
overflying Cuban refugee network plane in 1996, the Times gave this front page and
intense coverage, and expressed the greatest indignation. This is the same refugee network
that Posada has tapped for his terrorist activities, and one under U.S. protection. The
relative treatment of the shootdown, and the intense and indignant coverage of Carlos,
versus the earlier “don’t want to know” treatment of Posada, and recent
surfacing and moderate critique of Posada in a time of softening policy, exemplifies well
the Times’s bias, role, and propaganda service.

Edward S. Herman is an economist, author, media analyst, and professor emeritus at Wharton
School, University of Pennsylvania.